Dutch civil servants will soon be barred from using the Chinese-owned video app TikTok on their work phones, according to the Dutch Interior Ministry, following similar decisions in other European countries.
The Dutch ministry stated that it discouraged the use of all apps from “countries with an aggressive cyber program targeted at the Netherlands or Dutch interests” on government-supplied phones. The Dutch intelligence agency AIVD last month identified China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea as having such an offensive cyber program, raising the risk of espionage. Belgium also banned TikTok, which is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, from federal government employees’ phones and computers earlier this month.
It’s the latest example of how TikTok, which is owned by the Beijing-based ByteDance, is facing challenges in Europe, on top of its problems in the United States. The company is already being investigated for allegedly sending data on European Union users to China. French President Emmanuel Macron has been a vocal critic of TikTok, calling it “deceptively innocent” and a source of “real addiction” among users, as well as a source of Russian disinformation.
In recent months, Dutch officials have sought to strengthen ties with Washington as the US pushes for tighter export controls on sensitive technology sold to China, including machines manufactured by the Dutch chip printing giant ASML. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte met with US President Joe Biden earlier this month, during which they discussed how to “quite frankly, meet the challenges of China,” according to the US leader ahead of the meeting.
The Dutch policy on TikTok, which is effectively a pause rather than a ban, is primarily aimed at preventing the use of TikTok for “media” purposes, according to a spokesperson for the general affairs ministry, and does not explicitly instruct government officials to delete the app from phones.
The spokesperson stated that it is difficult to assess how strictly government services have followed the advice because the ministry is not monitoring separate services’ use of the app.
However, the two officials said the advice had resulted in a clear shift away from the Chinese-owned app, in line with growing security concerns across the West. A junior Dutch government coalition party called in November for a full ban on the app “in its current form.” Asked by reporters what he thought of this proposal, Rutte said this was “the opinion of five seats in the Dutch lower chamber.”
In early November, TikTok admitted that some of its Chinese employees had access to European TikTok user data.
It also came under fire in the United States after Forbes magazine reported in December that employees had accessed data to track the whereabouts of journalists covering TikTok. TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew traveled to Brussels earlier this month to address concerns with EU commissioners such as Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager, Vice President for Values Vra Jourová, and Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders.
“I count on TikTok to fully execute its commitments to go the extra mile in respecting EU law and regaining [the] trust of European regulator,” Jourová said in a warning shot at the company. There could not be “any doubt that data of users in Europe are safe and not exposed to illegal access from third-country authorities,” she said.
TikTok said in a comment that it’s open to engaging with the Dutch government “to debunk misconceptions and explain how we keep both our community and their data safe and secure.”